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One of CIMIT’s priorities is responding to medical needs on the battlefield, and the May 8 Forum at the Simches Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital featured two impassioned practitioners who provided an overview of developments in technology to aid soldiers.
Speaking were Col. Geoffrey Ling, M.D., Ph.D., program manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and an attending physician at Walter Reed Medical Center and Johns Hopkins University; and Michael Callahan, M.D., DTN&H, M.S.P.H., program manager for DARPA Defense Sciences Office; and Command Physician 77, Biological Threat Defense and Mass Casualty Care, CIMIT/Massachusetts General Hospital.
One project DARPA is developing is the “trauma pod,” a project to improve battlefield casualty care by developing mobile surgical capabilities through the integration of tele-robotic and robotic medical systems.
The initial phase has successfully automated functions typically performed by the scrub nurse and circulating nurse, officials say. These functions are now performed by semi-autonomous robots working in coordination with the tele-robotic surgeon.
The program plans to incorporate a portable CT scanning capability to enable pre- and post- surgical diagnosis and assessment. The final phase of the program will miniaturize the entire robotic surgery and scanning system, and integrate it onto a tactical platform. The project is under development.
On the topic of delivering medical care, Col. Ling said that military medics have the highest casualty rate in the Iraq theater.
He also stated that close to 80 percent of casualties are civilian Iraqis, which American medical teams are committed to help. The number of casualties the military must assist is high, he said.
DARPA researchers also are investigating manufacturing pharmaceuticals on demand so that more medicines are near the region of fighting. And researchers are investigating the nature of “blast brain injury.”
Dr. Callahan said that there is a need to improve current vaccine manufacturing systems in the face of large-scale biological threats.
In addition, he said DARPA is doing research on preparing soldiers for extreme environments.
He said that research at Stanford University shows that new techniques in dealing with physical stress can improve the biochemical etiology (causation) of muscle fatigue.
His group also is researching the creation of Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals (AMP) which seeks to create a system of producing 3 million doses of any vaccine or therapeutic in 12 weeks, and perhaps at pennies per dose.
Moderating the session of Dr. Ling was Lee Schwamm, M.D., vice chair of the Department of Neurology at MGH and associate program director, MIT General Clinical Research Center.
Moderating the session of Dr. Callahan was Murray Hamlet, DVM, former director of the Cold Research Division, U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, in Natick.
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